The Social Benefits of Candid vs. Posed Photos

Nearly everyone has gone through the process of selecting a profile picture—whether it is for OkCupid, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram or a myriad of other social media sites.   People being rational tend to pick images they think will have the intended effect. So, for example if you’re selecting a profile pic for a dating app you will likely go for something that makes you look a little more in shape, attractive and exciting. We all know people judge based on appearance so why not put our best foot forward.

Of the more than 1.8 billion photos uploaded every day the majority are of “posed” photos. Posed photos involve someone looking directly at the camera and picking a particular position, to present themselves in a certain way.  Over 92% of OkCupid photos and 86% of Facebook profile photos are posed. Candid photos in contrast involve people acting naturally and spontaneously not looking at the camera.

In a newly published study “A Candid Advantage? The Social Benefits of Candid Photos” Jonah Berger and Alixandra Barasch state: “compared to posed photos, candids made observers feel more connected to the poster, feel more interested in getting to know or date them, and like them more.” As the authors write “The benefits of posed photos are clear. By carefully constructing the image and posing in a certain way, posters can shape how they come across to others.” So what accounts for the observers preference for candid photos?

The authors suggest that “particularly in the context of friendship and dating, observers may react more favorably to candid photos because they seem more genuine. Genuineness, or sincerity, involves expressing one’s true, authentic nature, or the absence of trying to convey or signal things to others.” Interestingly, by presenting an image that appeared more real and less staged, the observer was likely to feel greater affinity for those individuals.

Now the authors do point out there are exceptions and context definitely matters. They also collected data that demonstrated people are more interested in hiring someone with a posed photo versus a candid photo on LinkedIn.  They conclude “which photo type is more beneficial may depend on how the specific context shapes the inferences people draw from a candid photo and the relative value placed on genuineness.”

Photos have become an increasingly important form of communication and decision making across multiple domains.  There is an implicit assumption that “a curated, polished version of the self will generate the most favorable responses—that by smoothing rough edges and presenting one’s best side, others will like and want to interact with them more. But this assumption is not always correct. In some cases, observers may actually prefer an unvarnished perspective because it seems more genuine.”

So next time you’re considering which photo to select you may want to consider the one taken when you weren’t looking.

A Candid Advantage? The Social Benefits of Candid Photos
Jonah Berger & Alixandra Barasch
Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2017

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